Though Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien was written in 1974, you’d never know it without looking at the original publication date. O’Brien really didn’t do anything that dates the book as one from the 1970's. That’s a hard thing to do but easier when your story is set in a country valley – one so big you can’t even see your neighbor’s house when you stand outside.
This is the kind of place where Ann lives. She used to live there with her family. Now it’s just her and no family. So what happened to Ann’s family?
When we meet Ann she’s living alone on the farm, too scared to leave the valley where her home is for fear of what she imagines to be radiation poisoning. She remembers hearing how the families who ran the local stores were getting so sick. Then there was the pond on her property with all those dead fish floating in it.
Her family suspected nuclear war but had no choice but to go into town when their supplies got low on the farm. They asked Ann to stay behind in case anyone came to their house looking for them. Ann waited and waited, but no one ever came home – not one single family member.
A year later is where we first meet her. At this point she’s given up hope they will return. She believes they are dead or had to leave the valley – with no time to return for her. Then, one day, she sees a thin coil of smoke in the distance horizon. Each day she can see it get closer and can tell that whoever is out there is headed her way.
Ann knows she might not be alone for much longer. Is this the best thing she can hope for or the worst? If there might not be any other survivors left, what terrible things might this person have done to stay alive?
Z for Zachariah kept me on my toes. There were several parts that literally made me say something out loud to the book (as if Anne could possibly hear me!). The book opens up a lot of questions which would make it fantastic to read for a book group. This is a definite recommendation for those who read, and loved, Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It is appropriate for middle school age through adult – hey, I’m an adult and I ate it up!
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